Heskey for England, not if he can help it.
Last week saw the recall of the forgotten striker, Emile Heskey to the England squad. The recall came at no surprise, with Sven facing a striker problem. Vassell has been out injured. Smith has yet to set Old Trafford on fire (I always hope someone literally will one day). Owen does not start games at Real. Andy Johnson has pulled out of the squad with an injury. Defoe had a tough game on his last international outing, and was left out the last two internationals. And we all know about Rooney’s temperament.
Heskey’s inclusion to international squad was welcomed by his club manager, who has been raving about his performance for Birmingham. And obviously, Sven knows he offers something different to Owen, Rooney and Defoe. Good height, holds the ball and he is experienced at the international level.
The irony is the reason Heskey is doing well is because he is not playing for England. He is at the moment playing at level where there is no great pressure for him to perform, something he had to endure when playing for Liverpool and England. At Birmingham, he is at his comfort level and can play his game without the worry of what the press will say. He is content playing mid-table football and no one can blame him for that. He is happy and Birmingham are happy with his service. And he gets paid what he is worth.
Any other player who is given a chance to play international football would grab the opportunity with both hands. They would have started voicing their desire to represent their country or to be given another chance in the run up to the international games (Savage, Carragher, and Defoe, for example). They certainly would not let their manager do all the talking for them. Players relish playing football at the highest level. They ‘live’ for the big games. They want to walk out in front of thousands, to be watched by millions, knowing they have reached the pinnacle of football. You don’t have to look any further than Steven G. Without the pressure, it just another game for him. Heskey makes the exception.
He is not going to start in the qualifiers against Northern Ireland, with Owen, Rooney and Defoe ahead of him but he will be the next one in line and can expect to be called up on should Sven sees the need to use him.
Unlikely it may seem, if the game is tied at 1-1 after 70 minutes, Sven may choose to bring on Heskey to change the game. Even more likely is if Owen or Rooney are booked in the game (which would mean they would be suspended for the next game), Sven will be forced to start with Heskey in the Azerbaijan game. Of course, Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan are not hard games for Heskey and England. They will be expected to win the two games with or without him. But they are still international games and with that come the pressure, the responsibility and the expectation to perform. And in this case, they will be expected to win comfortably.
The question is how will Heskey cope with that baggage again. He may score a goal, but the press will have a go at him for the other misses and the hat trick he should have had. He will come back to his club, demoralized and his confidence taken away from him which could affect his club form.
Next time, Steve Bruce may wish to keep his mouth shut.